C-SPAN to Examine Brown v. Board of Education in ‘Landmark Cases’ Series

By Mark Walsh — November 20, 2015 2 min read
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Cross-posted on the School Law Blog.

The story of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka has been told many ways: in books, in made-for-TV movies, and on the stage. On Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. Eastern time, the landmark 1954 desegregation decision will be highlighted in a unique way by C-SPAN as part of its inaugural “Landmark Cases” series.

The cable public affairs channel launched the series this fall with Marbury v. Madison, the 1803 case that established the U.S. Supreme Court’s power of judicial review.

Subsequent cases have included Scott v. Sandford, the 1857 “Dred Scott” decision holding that people of African descent were not U.S. citizens; Lochner v. New York, the 1905 case in which the court struck down a state law governing baking hours by recognizing a “freedom to contract"; and Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 ruling that upheld the internment of people of Japanese descent.

Brown is the only education case in this first batch of landmark cases. (There seems to be room for a future season as well.) There was no advance screener for this coming Monday’s 90-minute show. That’s because the series airs live each week, with C-SPAN host Susan Swain typically interviewing two experts about each case, rolling some short documentary segments, and even including a taste of that C-SPAN hallmark: live calls from viewers.

The experts have included historians, authors, Supreme Court legal specialists, and even former U.S. solicitors general.

The guests for the Brown show are Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a legal historian at Harvard University; and Kannon Shanmugam, a former assistant to the U.S. solicitor general and a Washington lawyer who argues before the Supreme Court. [UPDATE Monday 1:30 p.m. Jeffrey Rosen, the president of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, is taking Shanmugam’s place.]

C-SPAN’s preview page for the episode includes video segments featuring President George W. Bush dedicating the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site at the Monroe School in Topeka, Kan., in 2004; President Barack Obama discussing education and civil rights (the clip below); and Justice Antonin Scalia discussing his originalist perspective on Brown and its 1896 predecessor, Plessy v. Ferguson.

The shows are scheduled for the regular C-SPAN channel. Last week, though, I set my DVR to record the episode about Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, the 1952 case that overturned Presiden Harry S. Truman’s seizure of the steel mills. But instead of the “Landmark Cases” episode, I got 90 minutes of those live speeches by House of Representatives members before a nearly empty chamber (and some other C-SPAN programming). The crawl on the bottom of the screen said that “Landmark Cases” had been moved to C-SPAN 3. But my DVR didn’t know that.

(All the episodes are available online starting the day after they air.) So look for the Brown v. Board of Education episode this coming Monday on one C-SPAN channel or the other.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.